Regan had suspected that her father did not understand the drama that had risen over the last hour when he picked up the girls from the mall or how it was that the usually glowing Emma was so dour. Regan for her part had refused to make eye contact with Emma. The drive to drop off Emma had been awkwardly silent, the drone of the NPR reporters providing the only thing approaching conversation. Regan had given quiet thanks that her father did not ask what was going on. She could clearly remember how badly she prefered the silence. By the time they had deposited Emma on her doorstep, her father seemed to accept that something had happened and that Regan would manage it as she always did.
The fight had been forgotten, of course, over the next few days and did not resurface accept for that moment when Emma's mom had picked up Regan to take the two girls to the dance. Each girl had offered a terse "you look nice" to each other, and then walked stiffly back to the car. Regan could remember the look of concern on her father's face as they had backed out of the driveway and he watched from the front porch. But within minutes of reaching the dance, the two were engaged in a long conversation about Emma's streak of shockingly white hair that she had added that evening, Emma's mother's disapproval, and of course, which boys would be most interested in it.
Over the course of the evening, neither had really budged from the small stretch of bleachers they had staked out. Emma had been asked to dance by a boy seventeen times, five of them for slow dances, twelve for popular songs. Regan's count had ended the evening at ten, eight slow and two fast. When she was asked for dance number eight, a slow dance, she felt she was winning in the count that mattered until Matt Newcastle groped her ass halfway through the song. She had not exactly known what to do about the advance; it was decidedly unwelcome, but she did not feel confident she should react at all to it. She did not want to appear the prude and therefore ignored the gesture, turning and beelining back to Emma's side as the song faded and another began.
The entire ordeal had taught Regan many things, facts that the next five years of school and dances would regularly affirm.
First, that given the chance, a boy will grab a girl's ass if he believes he can do so without penalty.
Second, Emma had better taste in clothes for formal occasions than she did.
Third, slow dances were considerably more her style, even if they were more likely to lead to awkward moments.
As Regan drove back towards her house she reflected on these truisms from her youth. She was going to need Emma to make this happen. There was no sense in trying to go into the party as a woman among girls without Emma's input. She was also going to need something to wear.
It had to be elegant. It had to be expensive. It had to be hand crafted. It had to be orginal. It had to say that she had money, that she was unafraid to spend it, and that she was a woman of power. And, according to Stacy, it had to be ready by nine that night. As they drove she also considered how she was going to pay for this. She would need to hire a designer and pay her to work a solid day on the dress, with only one refitting shortly after dusk. Metro Detroit was known for many things, but sadly couture fashion was not one of them. At a light she verified that she had a signal again and called Emma.
"Yes?" Emma sounded tired. Regan wondered if she had woken her, an unlikely but not impossible event. It was after eleven by a fair amount.
Regan wasted no words. "Want to help me prepare for the Vampire version of a prom?"
Emma sounded completely invigorated. "Prom? Did a boy vampire ask you? Did you get pinned?"
Regan chukled. "It doesn't work that way. But are you in for helping with the prep?"
"This is a big formal deal, right?"
"It should be."
"As in, 'Every vampire will be there', right?"
Regan was not sure where Emma was going. "Yes," she offered.
There was a pause. "Can I come?"
"To help me prep, of course," Regan answered quickly. "I'm going to need you to meet with the designer during the day to make sure the dress is coming along well."
"No," Emma corrected on the other end of the line. "I mean the prom. It has to be mostly safe, right? I mean I'd be there with you and I'll get a chance to see all of the vampires, or most of them, for myself and know who to avoid."
"Don't you dare ask 'what could go wrong?'."
Emma chuckled lightly. "I wasn't going to, but that's the deal. I help you get prepped and I get to see this new night life of yours from the inside. See what you see. C'mon," she pleaded, "you need me and my curiosity is finally about to kill me."
Regan hesitated. The risk could be quite literal.
"You owe me," Emma offered quietly.
"Fine," Regan sighed. Stacy was staring at her, having only heard one side of the conversation. Regan shook her head to indicate that she had things under control. "Can you meet us at my place in a half hour."
"I have Stacy with me. Remember her? The younger vampire?"
Emma did not hesitate to answer. "The one that wanted to eat me. Right."
Regan groaned. "She did not want to eat you; she thought I was planning to eat you. There's a difference."
"Not to the burger."
"Are you still in?" Regan was feeling the plan unravelling.
"Yep. See you in a half hour."
Regan hung up the phone and filled Stacy in on the full conversation. She agreed that there was little to worry about Emma's safety during the party. Refreshments were always provided by the host and a many vampires would bring their prefered blood dolls as a way of showing off. The only risk was if the Earl took a fancy to Emma; there was no denying the Earl of Detroit blood that he wanted.
"Regan, I need to ask you a personal question."
Regan glanced once at Stacy and then returned her eyes to the road. "Sure."
"Are you gay?"
"Not that I'm aware of, why?"
"Well," Stacy began, "these parties are one of the times that all of the county will see each other. If you show up with me and Emma, and sure I'll have Daryl with me, people might get ideas that you really do prefer female company." She hastened to add, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
"What do you suggest?"
"I say," Stacy began, her lips turning upwards in a mischievous grin, "that you show up with an entourage of hotness."
"So," Regan began, thinking aloud, "it's not enough to be there looking like a million dollars, I also need an entourage help me spend my million dollars."
"Exactly what I was thinking."
Regan sighed. "That'd be a lot easier if I had a million dollars."
"You know," Stacy giggled, "if I had a million dollars-"
"I'd buy you a fur coat," Stacy continued undeterred. "But not a real fur coat, that's cruel."
Regan groaned. "I do see your point. A little eye candy is pretty much standard for most accomplished movers of money." She frowned. "Of course most of the eye candy I've sampled over the last month hasn't called me back either."
"Oh, that's not a problem. We have ways to make them remember how much they loved their time with you."
Regan shook her head. "I don't want you brainwash men into coming to the party with me. I got my fill of that in college."
"You brainwashed men in college?"
"A double date with Emma usually felt like it. Guys could talk their roommates into dating a Gorgon if it meant a date with her. Nothing to build your confidence like the realization that your date was the admission ticket. It was like a bad 'Bait and Switch' scam."
"And you were the switch."
Stacy put her hand on Regan's arm reassuringly. "Don't sweat it. I won't add any ideas to anyone's head, just bring some memories to the front, that's all."
Regan was not convinced but decided to drop the argument. It was still early enough in the night they could get a lot done before dawn and her death sleep. If Stacy wanted to use that time to get her some arm candy to incite a little jealousy among the other ladies, so much the better.
When they pulled to the front of Regan's townhouse she felt like she was finally taking control of things. She was free of Jeremiah, for now, she had a mission, she had friends to suport her and she had an amazing need to take a shower.
By the time she had emerged from her upstairs bedroom and started down the stairs into her living area, Daryl had picked up Stacy, leaving Regan alone in the townhouse. She sent a few emails to reschedule meetings she had planned for the next evening while she waited on Emma; work would have to wait. Then, to pass the remaining time, she began to dig through what financial records she could find online related to the property where the library was located. It was time to take the fight to Jeremiah.
"Hello?" Emma's voice called out as she opened the door to the house. A quick check of the time showed it to be just after midnight. Regan rose from where she had been working on her new laptop in the kitchen and crossed into the common room to greet her. Ordering a new laptop or tablet was a nightly occurrence and one only borne by the fact the could not work without them. Cloud storage was the only thing keeping her sane in her constant efforts to keep working technology on hand.
"This is Henri," Emma said coming inside. Behind her followed a tall man with a thin face, and wire-rimmed glasses. He held his chin with one hand as he idely took in the room and its effects, his eyes finally falling on Regan. He smiled and nodded his head politely, and then gave her a clear look up and down. He was appraising her, Regan knew, judging her decor as well as her own more-curvy-than-she-liked body.
Regan made a mental note to get to the gym for the fourth time this week and test whether or not weight loss was possible among the living dead.
"I can work with this," Henri finally declared in a voice so smooth and pure that gave Regan a chill.
No, she was so very much not gay.
Henri took a tablet computer out of his shoulder bag and looked at Regan. "Shall we review your vision for the night?"
Regan was about to agree, when Emma took her arm and started to lead her back to the kitchen. "Let's open a bottle of wine first," Emma said as she pulled Regan into the next room.
"Oh that would be marvelous," Henri confessed as he settled onto the couch and crossed his legs.
In the kitchen Emma recovered a bottle of wine from the rack next to the refrigerator and studied the label. "Before we get working I want you to know that Henri is the very best but he does not work cheap. You'll get something amazing, but it won't be cheap. Especially if he has just a day to make it work."
"How do you know him?" Regan began to fish in one of the drawers for a corkscrew.
"Oh we met at some fashion party a few years ago when I was writing a pop culture column for that other blog I was contributing to." She paused, thinking. "I don't even remember which blog that was. Either way," she continued with a shake of her head, "he's good people but like I said, he's not cheap. Are you sure you want him?"
"Is he good?"
"Shows at Fashion Week every year."
"I want him."
"You got him." Emma poured out two glasses of wine, looking at Regan with suspicion when she offered up a third. With a shrug, she poured some into it as well and the two women returned to the living room.
Henri had passed the time sketching on the tablet. As Regan sat down next to him he turned it towards her to show his initial design.
"I wanted to capture something confident but also powerful," he explained, "which is why you'll notice that the entire gown will be heavily structured. The wide shoulders will continue over here, but then come together at this point and continue down the center of your back. You have a lovely figure, so we’re go keep this entire look fitted throughout the bust, waist and hips with the draping providing even stronger lines throughout." He looked at Regan over his thin glasses. “As refreshing as it is to work with a natural redhead, I believe that a french twist will do best for the look we want to achieve, and then accessorize with some oversized earings with a pop of color.”
And another constant in Regan's life manifested. She was crushing on a gay man.
Before she could agree that yes, this was a perfect design, her phone began to buzz. Excusing herself back to the kitchen, she answered, despite the fact that the display showed an unknown number.
"Regan?" It was a man's voice, one that sounded quite familiar.
"This is Thomas, I hope you remember me."
Polite, honest, humorous, sensual, amazing kisser and the man responsible for possibly the most passion filled night of either of her lives. Why yes, she remembered him.
"Of course," she said, trying to contain a "squee". "How are you?"
"I'm very well, thank you for asking," he answered, his rich baritone giving Regan another set of chills. "I don't know if you're aware but there is a bit of a party the Earl is putting on tomorrow night."
"I've heard about it, yes," Regan said as casually as she could. This did not seem the time to announce that she was about to put a fashion designer on retainer to create her look for the event.
"I'm planning to attend and I would be honored have you join me as my companion for the evening."
Regan's eyes widened. The last man to ask her out in any sense had been Harrison and that had been years ago. Did she wish to give up a chance to appear as a woman onto herself in exchange for another evening with Thomas?
"I'm flattered," she began, truthfully.
But what to say?
Our Story continues......
Our Heroine is at a cross roads. What, Dear Reader, shall she do?
If you enjoy Mind the Thorns, perhaps consider Bastion: The Last Hope, a story of the end of days as told by those who survived them.
Mr. Osterman's first novel FantastiCon can be found on Amazon.com in both print and eBook editions. It is also available on Smashwords.